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The Bears won the NFC North Division this year because their most talented and hard-working athletes, five of who were named first-team Pro Bowlers on Tuesday, have played great football for 14 games. And they won because of smart coaching from Matt Nagy, Vic Fangio, Harry Hiestand and all the rest. There was some good fortune mixed in as well.
They did not win because of chemistry.
Those who know, know that the question of which comes first, chemistry or winning, is bunk. Winning comes first every time. You know how people point to the post-game "Club Dub" celebrations as a great example of this team's chemistry? We all understand that the "Dub" is short for "W" right? Those parties don't happen if teams don't take care of business first.
They also did not win because of the head coach's leadership. I will acknowledge that Nagy has set a great tone for this team with his aggressiveness. But the main thing he has done is do a great job preparing his players week after week and then calling the plays. Oh, and he has also done a great job of staying out of Fangio's way.
And while we're at it, the Bears did not win because of Ryan Pace's clever drafting. The man had one hell of a fourth round last year, that much is clear. It would have been a triumph to get one Pro Bowler at that point. Pace selected two - safety Eddie Jackson and everything back Tarik Cohen.
But the makeup of the Bears' Pro Bowl contingent perfectly illustrated the real way this team was built. There were those two amazing Pace draftees, two free agent signings and one player obtained in a trade.
Actually, one of the free agents, Fuller, was drafted by the Bears before Pace got here. But he was almost gone to free agency before Pace decided to match the Packers' offer sheet last offseason. The other was defensive tackle extraordinaire Akiem Hicks.
Other than that one fourth round, Pace's drafting has been average. What has been extraordinary has been his willingness to break with the NFL orthodoxy that says general managers must value draft picks - both their positioning and abundance - above all else.
And it was that attitude, one that scared the crap out of knowledgeable Bears fans when the team ended up with only five picks in that 2017 draft, that enabled Pace to make the most important move of all in 2018. That was when he pulled the trigger on sending the Raiders two first round picks and a third-rounder for Khalil Mack and a second-rounder.
Pace also used free agency to totally transform the team's receiving corps. And that transformation, along with Nagy's glorious play-calling, has enabled Mitch Trubisky to step up. Sure, the quarterback had a rough game against the Rams. But it is impossible to view the season so far - currently capped off by his sometimes spectacular, always rock solid performance against the Packers - and conclude that he has done anything other than improve impressively.
This team also features critical free agent signees at right offensive tackle (Bobbie Massey) and middle linebacker (Danny Trevathan). Oh, and left tackle Charles Leno also predates Pace but Pace gets credit for identifying him as a keeper when many didn't believe he was and signing him to what now looks like a bargain contract extension.
The bottom line is, the best teams are created when flexible executives don't get too set in their ways. The Packers have declined in the past two years in part because they have been too focused on drafts and not enough on free agency.
The greatest thing is that the fun will continue for the Bears for at least another three weeks. Who knows what will happen this coming Sunday in Santa Clara and next in Minneapolis, but no matter what, the Bears will then move on to a playoff game at home.
They have stayed focused through ever week of the season so far and there is no reason to believe they will stop now. Nagy is clearly not the kind of coach who will make the mistake Peyton Manning's Colts made year after year when they stopped trying late in regular seasons when top playoff positioning had been clinched. And then they were surprised to be upset early in the playoffs year after year (Manning's Indianapolis teams won only one Super Bowl - against Rex Grossman's Bears).
The guys who ran those teams (looking at you, Bill Polian) never could figure out that if you turn off the competitive switch at the end of a season, there is absolutely no guarantee you will be able to turn it back on in the postseason.
The Bears have already provided us with the most fun season we've had in a long time. And they are capable of so much more.
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.
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Posted on May 22, 2019